Psychosocial hazards are factors in the design or management of work that increase the risk of work-related stress and can lead to psychological or physical harm. Examples of psychosocial hazards might include poor supervisor support or high job demands.
Employees are likely to be exposed to a combination of psychosocial hazards. Some hazards might always be present at work, while others only occasionally. There is a greater risk of work-related stress when psychosocial hazards combine and act together, so employers should not consider hazards in isolation.
Psychosocial hazards do not necessarily reveal the causes of work-related stress. Causes are likely to be specific to the employee, work or workplace. Senior management should identify which psychosocial hazards negatively affect employees' health and well-being and take appropriate action to control the impact of those hazards.
The following measures may help employers implement a risk management process to manage work-related stress:
Senior management commitment is critical to the success of any significant workplace initiative. Risk management programs require resources such as people, money and time but, in the long-term, have been shown to provide considerable savings. Gaining employee commitment through frequent and open communication is also necessary to successfully change employee attitudes and behaviour.
Participation, communication and consultation
One of the key objectives of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) is to promote greater involvement and co-operation between employers, employees and any health and safety representatives (HSRs) on workplace health and safety matters. When managing the risk of work-related stress, it is important to have management commitment and input from employees to help identify and address psychosocial hazards.
- Consulting with employees at each stage of the risk management process will help achieve better health and safety outcomes because employees are in constant close contact with the day-to-day workplace environment and often have first-hand knowledge of factors that can increase the risk of work-related stress.
- Seeking input from employees may support their sense of participation and ownership over workplace safety decisions and control measures.
- Employees can experience stress when they have little control over their work and their work environment or feel unsupported in their workplace. Communicating with employees and seeking their participation in the risk management process should help ease this belief. The consultation process itself is likely to become part of the solution.
Information about consultation
Facilitating participation and consultation
The OHS Act requires employers to consult with employees and HSRs in certain circumstances. As well as facilitating the election of HSRs and setting up committees, employers could set up a specific communication and project management structure to oversee and implement the risk management process. This structure may include a senior steering committee or a working group, or scheduled manager and employee meetings. HSRs should be involved in all consultation.
Senior steering committee
A senior steering committee can include a group of individuals in senior management and strategic function positions who are responsible for general operating policy, procedures and related matters affecting the organisation as a whole. Examples of senior steering committee members include HSRs and representatives from human resources, occupational health and safety (OHS) and organisational communications departments. A steering committee should include a 'risk management champion' who heads the committee and gives the risk management process momentum. A risk management champion should be a senior decision maker in the workplace.
The purpose of a senior steering committee is to:
- provide overall guidance and direction
- engage with senior management
- provide evidence of management support
Employers might establish a steering committee to oversee the stress risk management process and to ensure the implementation of recommendations for change.
A working group includes employees who work at an operational level and HSRs. Working groups are an effective way of carrying out potentially large-scale strategic processes such as work-related stress risk management. Working groups should encourage employees to have full and active participation in the risk management process. A working group can:
- encourage employee participation
- identify and discuss insights and points of view on work practices
- coordinate focus group discussions or the distribution of surveys
- review the results of surveys and other information to respond and develop appropriate processes and procedures
- analyse and prioritise areas requiring action
- use a collaborative approach involving employees and managers to develop an action plan to address identified causes of work-related stress
- report to the senior steering committee, if applicable
Involving employees in risk assessments
Employers must consult with employees and any HSRs on a range of matters, including when assessing hazards or risks to health or safety and when making decisions about measures to control the risks. This process might involve, for example, seeking employee input into the design, implementation and evaluation of any control measures for managing risks associated with work-related stress. Employers could also invite employees or HSRs onto senior steering committees and onto working groups.
The risk management champion and steering committee or working group might initially consider consultation feedback to decide how to position and present the results to the organisation as a whole. Employers should communicate outcomes in a timely and consultative manner to ensure employees are committed to risk control measures.
Failing to routinely provide feedback on actions which are part of the risk management process can have a negative effect on employees' sense of support and control because the absence of information can be seen as a lack of action.
Work-related stress and your legal duties
The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable. This responsibility includes providing and maintaining safe systems of work and an obligation to consult with employees and HSRs on matters that directly affect or are likely to affect their health or safety, including hazards and risks associated with work-related stress.
Employees also have duties under the OHS Act to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, the health and safety of people in the workplace and to co-operate with their employer.
More about your legal obligations
Download the complete PDF document
Early intervention for work-related stress – what managers need to know
Work-related stress – low job control
Work-related stress – high and low job demands
Work-related stress – poor support
Work-related stress – poor organisational change management
Work-related stress – poor organisational justice
Work-related stress – low recognition and reward
Work-related stress – low role clarity
Work-related stress – poor workplace relationships
Work-related stress – poor environmental conditions
Work-related stress – remote and isolated work
Work-related stress – violent or traumatic events
Preventing and managing work-related stress: A guide for employers
The effects of work-related stress
Psychosocial hazards contributing to work-related stress
A risk management approach to work-related stress